Contemporary Cuba Through Yoani Sanchez’s Eyes

Former Venezuela Presidential Chief of Staff Beatrice Rangel talks with Cuban dissident Yoani Sanchez on the changes Cuba is experiencing in the wake of the departure of the Castros from full control.

Yoani Sanchez is jinglish. She fills rooms with light and sound. Her broad smile and seamless laughter could bring sunshine to the bottom of a cave.

She enjoys journalism and playing tricks on the Cuban regime that more often than not is puzzled by her wit and enraged by her revelations.

But her assessment of the situation is rather optimistic for the forces of change. And as far as the government and its leadership are concerned, Yoani thinks the old bosses are giving way for biological reasons to a generation that did not fight Batista, did not organized firing squads, did not linger with Fidel, Raul and Che in Sierra Maestra and have no clue about what capitalism is or was.

This opens a small but growing crack among the ruling elite. The founding generation is now represented by 9 leaders. Twenty years ago there were 40.

They are staunch defenders of the public policy package that has taken Cuba to where it now is. The Diaz-Canel generation for its part is more solution oriented than ideological. Cracks are thus beginning to surface.

Suspending the workers march on May 1st for instance would have secured a prison cell and public disgrace to the person responsible for such decision when Fidel was alive. But Diaz Canel did just that, and nobody seems to care.

The old establishment barked at a decision that belittled the fundamental revolutionary beliefs. For the younger leadership, the decision however, spells common sense.

With Venezuela’s support to the Cuban Revolution dwindling, to mobilize 50,000 people from all over the country was seen as an unnecessary and costly show that would not bring any benefits to the government or the people. And so the May 1st march was suspended.

Yoani knows that this will never be correctly interpreted by foreigners and expatriates. None are privy to the secret codes that allow people to understand non-spoken signals constantly sent by the regime.

The march suspension was tantamount to an official announcement that the raving narcissism headed by Fidel is dead.

Another casualty was the Anti-Imperialist Court (Tribuna Anti Imperialista) held by Fidel every weekend where all people form all over the country would indict the US. Raul suspended the decade old tradition as soon as he became the boss.

But perhaps the most important changes came in less obvious but more powerful conduits: communications.

Allowing the local population to enter hotels and other outlets reserved for tourists initiated a dialogue with people from all over the world that had been frozen for half a century. Allowing Cubans to have cell phones initiated yet another dialogue: among Cubans. This dialogue has expanded to incorporate the diaspora and friends from abroad. And in spite of the fact that state security or the much-feared G-2 is as efficient as ever, the multiplication of channels is creating a strong stress on this spy agency. Will it crack under these pressures? Nobody seems to know but Yoani sees there a spring for change.

Another important crack emerges from the relative degree of freedom given to the population when the regime authorized the establishment of small, self-managed and independent commercial outlets (cuenta propistas).

They flourished at an astounding pace up and until August 2016 when the regime began to prepare for change in U.S. policy.

But those that had enjoyed two years of less economic repression are not ready to give up and have continued their businesses with the support of the diaspora. These people are yet another spring for transformation.

Sanchez credits President Barak Obama with destroying the government narrative with his Havana speech. She also thinks that the incoming stream of prominent foreign visitors that followed suit made Cubans aware of the drawbacks of currency duality.

Prior to those influxes that ended with a Rolling Stones concert only a handful of Cubans understood the enslaving power of the dual currency system. And as the collapse in Venezuela increases the current liquidity crisis, Cubans will press for the end of the sixty-year-old policy.

These pressures will once again confront the founding generation with the current leaders who do not think they have to support a policy that they did not create. These cracks would be good news for change. Will the forces of change understand how to successfully navigate them to build a free political system? The jury is out. But Yoani will be there to bear witness and explain it to us.

Published by on Monday May 7th, 2018

*The opinions published herein are the sole responsibility of its author.*